It’s all in the packaging

We have been astounded at the amount of packaging that moves through our house.

I can say “moves through” because a couple of months ago, one of our TV channels changed from Discovery Home, I think, to Planet Green. Then we watched “Living With Ed,” which we’d encountered before elsewhere (and I now want the book, “Living Like Ed”), and “Wa$ted” sold us completely. On the show, households are told their ecological footprint, which tends to be hundreds of times larger than their actual land size, given tips and three weeks to change their act, and awarded money to equal what their savings over a year would be.

Some things we haven’t done yet, but will soon. More insulation before winter is a must, and the dual-flow toilets I’ve been able to find locally have scary prices ($500 and up) so we won’t go that route but we might try an $80 conversion kit I found online.

What these shows really did, though, was shame us into recycling. Where we live, curbside recycling alternates weekly between paper and glass/plastic/tin. All we had ever managed, though, was to drag out the newspapers – although in our defense, with up to four daily newspapers thanks to my puzzle addiction, they do add up.

No more. We kept the recycling bin for the newspapers separate and put two others in the back entry. They are steps away from the kitchen sink, so rinsing something and tossing it in a bin takes only seconds extra from tossing it in the trash.

My son remarked on the difference after about three weeks. “You know, we only have about half as much trash now,” he said, and he was right. It is shocking how much space we filled every week with things we should have been sending somewhere else. And with that realization we can never go back to throwing things away.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Olympigs, summer version

New Olympics, new sports.

Not new to the athletes, of course. New to us.

In the last winter Olympics, we became acquainted with curling, which we liked enough that we stop to watch it on the rare occasions we bump into it (yay, Canadian television). I can’t say any of the summer sports we were unfamiliar with has enchanted us so, but we have learned a few things.

Saber, which the American women swept early on, was puzzling to watch because we never could tell when a point had been scored except that they yelled and backed away from each other. Water polo looks woefully unorganized, which I’m sure is just a case of us not knowing how to watch it. It reminds me of keepaway.

The biggest surprise was handball, which I expected to be two people swatting a small ball against a wall. No, it’s more like soccer, but with passing instead of kicking, or like basketball without dribbling. The net looks like a soccer net but the ball is smaller, and the players are allowed to swap it out for a different one.

A few sports we already knew and loved. Gymnastics and beach volleyball are must-sees, and we all are Misty and Kerri fans from 2004. We remembered synchronized diving, and again the whole family finds it fascinating.

Then there are the divergences. My daughter has become a Phelps Phan, and while swimming holds as much interest for me as any race, I can’t say I’m attached to anyone in particular. My son has taken a late shine to tennis and hopes to play for his school, so he has been devouring the tennis matches, pretty well regardless of what country or gender is playing.

Some of it gets old. I quickly passed on the cycling, and while I watched a bit of equestrian jumping, after the fifth or so horse I was done with that, too.

My daughter wanted to record all of it, and I told her that with a 40-hour DVR and NBC’s 1300-or-whatever hours of planned showings, some selectivity would be required. She chose to record a few shifts while we were gone for a weekend of camping and losing at softball, and still managed to wipe out everything we had been saving.

Ah well. We have reconstructed (thanks, SciFi reruns) most of the Eureka and Atlantis that our missionary family members missed, and the rest isn’t a great loss.

Besides, we’re busy for the next week and a half anyway. Time to be Olympigs again.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Is that a streak?

Most of the time, one of the joys of telecommuting is the relative freedom from distractions.

I read today that office workers get interrupted an average of once every 3 minutes, and I believe it. When I’m in the newsroom, I sit near someone who feels compelled to share a running commentary aloud – phone calls she needs to make, stories she needs to work on next, etc.

One day she asked, after a morning of complaining aloud about her computer, “Why do I yell at my computer when I know it doesn’t do any good?”

“I don’t know,” I countered. “Why have I been bringing in my iPod all week?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because you’ve been yelling at your computer.”

She’s a dear person, but with a habit that makes it harder for me to be productive

Working in my living room means far fewer distractions. Let the dogs out occasionally. Let the cat in. Try not to allow fights during the crossover.

That’s pretty much it. The kids sleep through deadline most days, so there’s not even muttering about not having the TV on. The compromise is it can be on during afternoon work, but I exercise more veto power than usual, such as no Fairly OddParents, particularly not obnoxious episodes like the musical one that appeared the other day. (Seriously. Who decided, “Hey, we have a show full of characters with annoying voices; why don’t we have them all sing?”)

Tonight, though, I was waiting for someone to check my wire pages so I could send them to film, and all I could think about was the sunset light forcing its way through the grime on my west-facing window. I had noticed earlier, but the wait made the buildup unbearable, so out onto the porch with cleaner and newspaper – ha, product placement! – I went, vertically on the outside and horizontally back on the inside (in case you didn’t know that trick).

So now I’m sending the last of my pages, and much happier because my front window is gleaming. Of course, now I see how the south-facing ones look dusty by comparison. But they require a ladder and more daylight than I’ve got left, so I can put them aside for now.

Come the morning deadline, of course, they’ll be bugging me again. But quietly, very quietly.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Biting off more than we get to chew

I had such a fine plan for Friday night. Make a cool meal, settle in for the season premiere of Stargate Atlantis.

(We are huge SciFi channel freaks. And in looking up that link I discovered there are full episodes online of Eureka, one of the best shows on TV, so it looks like I’ll be watching shows on my computer in preparation for THAT season premiere. So thanks.)

My ambition outstripped my capabilities here.

My family loves Chinese food. I do too, but I hate paying $30-plus to feed everyone, and thought surely I could make some of this, and fresher tasting.

I have The Book of Chinese Cooking, an excellent primer on Chinese cooking, and resolved to put it to full use: appetizer, entree, dessert. Spring rolls, I decided, with homemade skins. Mandarin chicken on egg fried rice. And Peking apples to end the meal.

Bwahahahaha. I was kidding myself in staggering fashion, going 1 for 3, and not without using five skillets, much to the dismay of my daughter, who had dish washing that day.

I tried to do all the prep work first, scattering little bowls and cups of ingredients so all I had to do was combine things at the proper moment. This worked fine for the chopping and liquids, and I added several items to the bowl we’ve starting keeping for organic waste. I made batter and syrup for the apples and set them aside. I made batter for the spring roll skins and set that aside. I made spring roll filling, the chicken dish and the fried rice, all without incident.

Then came the spring roll skins. I poured the thinnest layer of batter possible into a 6-inch skillet, just as instructed, and swirled it around to coat the bottom. Already, I was wondering how I was going to get 20 skins out of this batch. The skin cooked quickly, and I set it aside, covering it with a wet cloth.

I kept going, but the oddest thing happened. As they cooled, the skins seemed to get thicker, almost fluffy. OK, maybe less batter, but how?

I ended up with about eight thin pancakes. I dutifully tried to roll one up with filling inside, and it cracked as I thought it would. No amount of egg wash was going to seal this thing. Deep frying only would make things messier.

About this time I gave up. I had been at this for pushing two hours from the beginning of prep, I had enough food cooked to serve and I was done. The apple batter and syrup went into the refrigerator bottom drawer. The spring roll filling became an extra entree. And many, many dishes went into the sink.

My husband expressed empathy, knowing how long I’d been working just to be only half successful. I shrugged, philosophical. “You try new things, some of them are bound to fail,” I said, truly not upset, just a bit disappointed.

Dinner the next night: brats he grilled, and deli potato salad.

Ooh, that sound

It was loud in my living room last night — Stanley Cup playoff on TV, three Xbox Live gamers, three middle school girls semistudying.

Earlier in the day, though, during the time of puttering and gardening with occasional hydration breaks, it was much quieter. My son was in guitar practice mode, and had his Ibanez in his lap at the computer and his acoustic leaning against the basement door frame. I thought it could be a foot or so to the left, but he thought it was stable.
You know how there are distinctive sounds? A bad starter, maybe, or your own baby’s cry.

I’ve gained a few over the years. My cat has an odd, almost musical hairball sound. I’ve added a few car sounds to the aural dictionary, too, including the dreaded blown torque converter.

From the kitchen, I heard the first echoing, stringy thud. I hoped it would be the only one. There were more, creating the new unmistakable sound of an acoustic guitar going down a flight of stairs.

There was panic. There was denial. There was running down the stairs, a few cautious plucks – “it looks OK” – and then 10 minutes of babying on the couch, plucking and tuning and muttering.

This morning the gamers are in crash mode – one of them only about 10 minutes ago – and the guitar remains near the basement door … but about a foot to the left.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Welcome, summer!

High time, too.

We spent much of the weekend puttering around the yard, digging and raking and transplanting and pondering. I had to work Friday through Sunday evenings, but Monday glittered at the end.

We could not have asked for nicer weather. We didn’t have any formal Memorial Day observances, no parades or cemeteries, although I did turn to the veteran I married and thank him for his service.

No, we were full bore into summer. Early in the day, my husband pulled the smoker out and piled fish into the top. Later, spare ribs would get similar treatment.

I was lucky enough that a flat of vegetables on Freecycle went unclaimed, and when I went to stake my claim I was presented with half a flat of marigolds to boot. We have a full-blown veggie garden, edged with yellow marigolds, and all it cost me was gas across town. I had a nice conversation to boot.

The camp chairs were on the lawn, and my daughter insisted on dragging the wood rocker down from the porch, too. There were cups, cooking tools, reading material, dog toys and a plastic basin of soaking wood chips scattered about. I moved back and forth with my trowel, the dogs lounged, the girl read, the boys kicked back and supervised the smoking. The ribs were done about the time I was putting the last marigolds in; perfect.

The one thing I hadn’t done yet was give everything a good watering. Lightning flashed as the boy and I settled in to watch the Red Wings, though, so we hit “pause” and gathered everything up, then hunkered back down to watch the Penguins’ surprising ineffectiveness. The rain handled what I hadn’t, another shutout played out, and all was well.

Summer stretches ahead, lazy and long. I am so ready.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Just for fun

These are my favorite frivolous websites of the day:

Doodle 4 Google. Actually, this one is a teeny bit less frivolous because your vote will be a win for child and his/her artwork. There are four age groups, and you’re helping choose a national winner that will replace the usual Google logo on May 22.

Survivor Ponderosa. Nope, not the restaurant. We are avid “Survivor” fans at my house, so we thought it was cool there are video clips of life after being voted out. I haven’t watched them all yet, but I likely will.

Ex-Boyfriend Jewelry. Buy, sell, trade, blog. The motto is “You don’t want it. He can’t have it back.” There’s even a category called “gifts that should have been jewelry,” which includes the Roomba and other unromantic things I expected, but also some very nice purses and a great number of wedding dresses.

Peeps Show. In addition to useful information (there are sugar-free Peeps now; WHY?), there is a gallery of Peep-based art. I suggest the “Neon-vivid Onslaught,” which includes the warning, “Don’t stare directly at them … you may burn out your retinas.” Why do I like this? Because some of us who share computers occasionally play wallpaper wars, and this is high-grade weaponry.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Continuing education, retro style

Mysontheguitarist asked me last week if we had any Led Zeppelin cassettes, and I obliged by pointing the way. After records, 8-tracks and cassettes, and multiple copies of some albums in multiple formats, my husband and I screeched up short at yet another format and balked at buying very many CDs. And with iTunes, that has turned out to be just as well.

I think this stemmed in part from flipping through channels on a night with very slim pickings. One of the VH1s was showing “The Song Remains the Same,” and I parked there and waved the boy over. He didn’t have any use for Robert Plant and didn’t get the hair, but he longed for more closeups of Jimmy Page’s fingers.

So he trudged up from the basement with a box of cassettes. I picked through them with him, insisting he keep a couple out just for single tracks off them, but to his dismay there was no Jimmy Page to be found. Then he remembered and asked, “Do you have any Led Zeppelin records?”

Possibly, I said, and we went to the remaining record stash. Many of mine were gone, gifts to a guitar-playing nephew who apparently wanted to display them on his wall. But my mate’s odd mix of classic rock and classic disco brought forth some treasures, including Clapton, Van Halen, Pink Floyd and the promised “Physical Graffiti.” There was some obligatory reverence paid to the album art.

Of course we still had a turntable around. Then came the question: How do you skip from one song to another?

“You pick up the needle and move it where you want it,” I said, and his jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.” I assured him I was not, sliding out vinyl and showing him the gaps between songs.

After a few fits and starts, including a declaration that the player had no “pin” – how easy will it be to find a new needle, I wondered – he realized the needle in fact had a protective cover and removed it, and didn’t even mind moving the needle to skip to higher-priority songs. We’ve been telling him he needed to hear people like Clapton, but figured radio would do well enough. I kind of like how things have worked out, though.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Premiere week, huh?

So it is being called by the major television networks, although we already had caught some premieres last week.

“Survivor,” a must for the household. “America’s Next Top Model,” a must for my daughter. I insisted on passing up “Gossip Girl,” judging from reviews I had read and deeming it inappropriate for a 13-year-old. She is begging, so I have said I MIGHT watch it sometime to more personally evaluate it.

We rarely go out, so TV is our main entertainment, and the last few weeks have been trying. New shows glimmering certainly had our attention.

The boys walked in from hockey as we were about one-third through “Chuck.” I had heard it was OK but not wonderful, and it turns out we don’t care. It is funny and interesting enough for us. The daughter bemoaned missing “The Big Bang Theory,” which I didn’t bother taping. Maybe next week. The husband declared “Chuck” must viewing for next week; I just love the store name (Buy More).

We indulged in “Heroes,” even though we missed probably the last half of last season and were afraid we’d be lost. Clearly there is some conspiracy theory we’re fuzzy on, but could follow along well enough. Back in.

Finally, there was no question we’d be in front of “CSI: Miami.” It’s fun just to look at, even if some of Horatio’s one-liners are tired. And the whole son thing reeks of writer desperation.

What’s up for the rest of the week? Might have to do some recording. “Reaper” and “Moonlight” show promise. “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI” with Sara in peril, “House” – all make the cut. The male half is intrigued by “Bionic Woman” and can’t miss “The Unit.” As for “Cane,” there are just two words: Jimmy Smits. He could read the phone book and I’d probably watch.

If we don’t pick up the phone this week, you’ll get a call back during an ad.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Sunday on the couch

This is what comes of burning the candle at both ends – or at least, of working Monday through Friday, then Friday night, then Saturday night, in a week where a volunteer position kept the midnight oil burning as well. Three nights of four hours’ sleep or less. I sat at my desk last night with no urge to eat and sinuses slowly filling, knowing today would be spent on the couch.

And so it has been, after. You know, after some first-thing-in-the-morning website work, then cantoring at church, then laying out a decorative tile pattern at my husband’s request so he got the “rugs” where I wanted them.

Crash. Only bean soup in the pantry. Son offers to make a store run to fetch more appropriate soup (clam chowder, yay). Son also heats the soup, serves it, pronounces that I need DayQuil and serves that as well. Think I’ll keep him.

Around me, activity hums. Tile work continues in the back. Children finish homework. A hunting buddy drops off a .30-.30 for the boy to use in next weekend’s youth hunt, because apparently my .270 was declared unsuitable.

I am in charge of the remote, now clicking among three channels: NASCAR, Lions, WNBA. The week’s sudokus are in a pile next to me. And the couch is beckoning again …

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.